First off, let me just say that I am a fan of the "Underworld" franchise and I do think that Kate Beckinsale is one of the most beautiful women on the planet. Plus, I am also a sucker for tales about vampires and werewolves. That said, this newest installment of the franchise "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" doesn't have the previous two films' director, (although Len Wiseman still has credits for the story) and the absence of Beckinsale is of course to be expected (she is also married to Len Wiseman) considering that this film is a prequel and has taken place before Selene's timeline. Seems like Hollywood have listened to the "cries" of die-hard fans of the franchise, and delivered a fun installment in a gothic period.
In an undisclosed time in the past, the coven of vampires ruled the land, using slaves in the form of Lycans to protect their empire. Lucian (Michael Sheen) may well be the first Lycan to be able to turn into human form at will, and for reasons of his own, vampire leader Viktor (Bill Nighy who reprises his role from the first film) decides to spare him and keep him as his "favored" slave. However, things get a little complicated when Lucian develops an undying love for Viktor's daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra) and dreams of freedom for his Lycan brethren. Now, the lines have been drawn, and the war between Vampires and Lycans is about to begin....
Patrick Totopoulos is now in the helm as director of "Rise of the Lycans" and while I'm not very familiar with his work, I have to say that Totopoulos does know how to make an effective monster feature. The werewolves looked very nasty and feral, even downright dirty, while the vampires have those blue contact lenses and wears fancy medieval armor. The screenplay does stay true to the mythos of the original, but it also nicely blends hyper-kinetic violence, with a Shakespearean "Romeo and Juliet", medieval backdrop in quite a modern fantasy film about the roots of the struggle between the mythological creatures. This prequel does take a life of its own, and while fans are in very familiar territory, the film doesn't exactly alienate new viewers.
The filmmakers does stay within the style and feel of the original film with the gloomy cinematography, bluish muted color schemes and the action sequences carry quite a bit in blood and gore elements--and those scenes are nicely placed. The action in "Rise of the Lycans" consists mostly of swordplay--beheadings are aplenty, limbs are torn and bodies are mutilated. Amid the CGI generated set designs, I was somewhat pleased that this prequel didn't exactly build upon the franchise's past mistakes but it develops a fresh angle on the "Underworld" mythos. There are familiar characters to be seen in the film, and there are subtle hints of things to come. The film also enforces a gothic element that wasn't fully realized in the first sequel, and the screenplay does give room for its performers to have touches of melodrama, complete with very cool, moody posturing.
I supposed the film's main strength will have to come from the effective performance of its cast. Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy does give a very heartfelt performance. Their chemistry as leaders of opposite sides are very nice to be privy to, as their interactions prove to be the film's central focus--a good move by the director since it proves to be a credible plot device to get the franchise's established formulas and romantic tragedies' groundwork. Rhona Mitra is a refreshing presence and proves convincing enough as Sonja, the one major catalyst for rebellion of the Lycans. Of course, fans of the franchise knew exactly what happened to her, and the film just fleshes out her relationship between Lucian, her father and the other vampires.
The film also touches on the vampires relationship with the humans living during this time, and as to how the humans managed to become the dominant species in our present time. The Vampires coven's "Death Dealers" were supposedly the guardians of the human populace, who protect them from the beastly werewolves. Apparently, werewolves are those infected with no ability to change back to human form, and in this manner the commentary on social status is reinforced. Werewolves are to be killed on sight while Lycans are used as slaves. There is also some commentary on the politics of this mythical world, vampires rule, Lycans serve and humans provide silver. Werewolves are the outcasts. The vampires would do anything to hold onto their power base.
"Underworld Rise of the Lycans" may indeed be better than "Evolution" and the film does succeed as being a passionate period horror adventure. There is very small window of opportunity to further build on its mythos and it does do so quite well. The film's weakness may well be that being a prequel, it is difficult to offer that many surprises, if there are any at all. The film is a fun experience and highly entertaining to fans and even to those not familiar with the franchise. "Underworld Rise of the Lycans" is a bloody, stylish, visceral, melodramatic installment to further develop the war between vampires and werewolves. It awakens the senses that this franchise is very much alive, and left me wanting more.
Recommended! [4- Stars]
Seeing current movies these days is a challenge with a very active toddler. When Valentine's Day came around, we dropped our son off with my parents and I let my wife pick the movie. She of course picked the "vampire movie." Which is why I love my wife.
As a big fan of Kate Beckinsale and the World of Darkness role-playing game, the Underworld series quickly became a favorite. It featured big budget special effects, lots of PVC and leather, and plenty of pouty vampires. It also featured a battle between vampires and werewolves, a concept that was so prominent in White Wolf's World of Darkness series that it sparked a lawsuit.
Despite the lawsuit, Underworld continues to forge its own path, such that it now has prequels. You know your movie franchise has made it when executives are willing to pay to produce what is essentially a history book. Fortunately, this bit of history is actually worth watching.
Werewolves and vampires have always been a bit of a mixed bag in Hollywood. The fact that Dracula could turn into a wolf seems to be one of the less plausible aspects of vampirism that were dropped in favor of the Ricean pouty goth. Thus the ability to transform into a wolf is exclusively the domain of the werewolf. But it wasn't always this way.
The vrykolakas, draws its name from "vryk," meaning "wolf" and lakas, meaning "fur" in modern Slavic languages clearly meant "werewolf." Vrykolakas in other countries, however, is used to describe vampires. This is because of the aforementioned ability of a vampire to turn into a wolf, which can be strictly interpreted as meaning that all vampires are actually werewolves.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans turns this confusion into a plot. In short, vampires and werewolves are descended from the same bloodline, but the vampires have risen to the role of aristocrat while werewolves are little more than beasts. Or at least, that's what the vampires believe. To that end, Viktor (Bill Nighy) the vampire lord treats domesticated werewolf Lucian (Michael Sheen) as his foster son, giving him blacksmith duties that ensure werewolves don't transform with inward-pointing spiked collars. But Viktor's benevolence has limits, and when he discovers that Lucian is having a dalliance with his daughter Sonja (the delectable Rhona Mitra, who still isn't quite Beckinsale but comes pretty darn close), he teaches Lucian a terrible lesson. What Viktor underestimates is the kinship that Lucian has with his wilder brethren, a kinship that will spark class warfare.
Rise of the Lycans is basically what you get when you give a serious goth injection to the elves from Lord of the Rings, rehash the plot from Romeo and Juliet, and steal the feudal arrangement of vampires and their human "cattle" from the World of Darkness series. Nobody speaks in contractions. Everything is viewed through a dark blue lens. And lots of limbs get hacked off.
The real story here is the werewolves. It's their class struggle, after all, and the movie never shies away from the dire consequences of the characters' actions. There is a high enough body count on both sides to make Shakespeare proud.
Vampires. Werewolves. Vampires and werewolves killing each other. Two star-crossed lovers bound by their family allegiances and the curse of their blood. What more could you ask for in a Valentine's Day date movie?
In 2003, the action-horror film "Underworld" starring Kate Beckinsdale as the vampire Selena came out to theaters. Known for its stylish, Goth presentation and dark, brooding environment, the film would spotlight on the war between the vampires aka "Death Dealers" and the human/werewolf hybrids known as "Lycans". Directed by Len Wiseman, the film would spawn a sequel in 2006 "Underworld: Evolution".
But the creators of the film wanted to explain how the feud between the Death Dealers and the Lycans started. Although the first film briefly shown a little bit of that history, due to the rapid and shrinking budget of the first film, the creators were not able to effectively do what they wanted. And thus the third film, "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans", a prequel to the first two films, was created and released in theaters on January 2009.
Director Len Wiseman who was responsible for the first two films had come off directing the fourth "Die Hard" film "Live Free or Die Hard" and needing the time to rest, decided to contribute as a writer and producer for the "Underworld" prequel. Writing the screenplay for "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" was Danny McBride (who played Mason in the first film), Dirk Blackman (who written "Outlander") and Howard McCain (who wrote and directed "Outlander").
The producers decided to tap into one of their own crew to direct "Rise of the Lycans" and thus Patrick Tatopoulos, known for his special effects and creature design for the previous "Underworld" films but also for blockbusters such as "Independence Day", "Godzilla", "I Am Legend", "Silent Hill" and "10,000 BC" (to name a few) was selected to direct the latest film.
The film debuted at #1 in the box office in Jan. 2009 and has grossed nearly $90 million worldwide.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
"Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" is featured in 1080p High Definition with an aspect ratio of 2:40:1. It's important to point out that "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" is a film that is featured in primarily blues and blacks. The film showcases the darkness of that area and if there are any other colors that are utilized, those are reds and the golden and bronze colors. It is what Tatopoulos wanted and I think that the emphasis on the darker colors brings out the brooding feeling of the land, the castle, the forest, etc.
Picture quality was well done. I did not see any artifacts, scratches, dust but I did see grain. Especially in one scene that featured Sonja laying on bed, which was brief but grain/low light noise was noticeable. But other than that, I just felt that the film utilized blacks effectively. Red typically are colors that are seen during the most violent or bloodiest of scenes but the color does stand out due to everything being so blue and black.
As for audio quality, "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" is presented in English and French Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and also in Spanish and Portuguese 5.1.
I enjoyed how the action sequences utilizes each channel in my home theater setup. For one, when hearing the Lycans and the wolves as they run, to when they howl, one thing that audiophiles will notice is the effective use of low frequency bass coming from the subwoofer. That caught my attention immediately and when my subwoofer is utilized in such a manner, it makes me happy!
But the sounds of spears flying and hitting its victim, hearing the various action sequences constant and fluid and the noise of metal upon metal, slicing and clanging, those are noises that sound crystal clear as it comes out from your front channel speakers.
Dialogue is easily understood and so does the growls of the werewolves. There's nothing to fault about the audio, audio was well done!
As for subtitles, subtitles provided are in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
"Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" includes a second disc (digital copy) while the first disc includes special features that are in High Definition for video and for audio, presented in Dolby Surround & Stereo. Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are also included. Special features included are:
* Filmmaker Commentary - Commentary features Director Patrick Tatopoulos, three producers and the visual effects supervisor. I actually found the commentary quite informative and also entertaining. The guys talk about the choices they had with this film and how they were on a really strict schedule because of talent schedules, they needed to make sure that certain shots were done in 1-2 period. The guys also talked about how they wanted to do more but they had to stay strictly around the budget they had. But one of the most important tidbits was the footage from the first "Underworld" film which utilized a blonde Sonja and then of course, with this film having a dark haired Sonja. A large majority of the decisions made were done due to lack of money in the budget and I would think that if they were to recut the first "Underworld", they can now utilize footage from this this prequel for it. A very informative commentary that "Underworld" fans will no doubt enjoy!
* Cinechat - A two minute intro to Cinechat and of course, if you have BD-Live, you can chat with a friend or other people while watching the film.
* Behind the Castle Walls: Picture-in-Picture - While watching the film, you can get a picture-in-picture screen featuring actual shooting of the footage and also interviews with the Director, cast and crew.
* Lycanthropes Around the World Interactive Map - This is a map featuring Lycanthrope sightings in North America, Europe and Asia. Personally, I don't know how much of this is factual but I did bring up one about two children who were raised by wolves and when I checked on Google to do a search for the names. The names came up for Geocities and Lycos sites dedicated to werewolves but no Wikipedia or news sites. But an interesting, dark and kind of macabre stories of people who believe they were wolves and some that killed and resorted to cannibalism.
* Underworld: Rise of the Lycans: From Script to Screen - (9:13) Interviews with the producers and the Director in regards to how the script was written in 4 weeks and pretty much these guys who worked on the previous two films knew what they wanted for this prequel. But most importantly, when the previous Director Len Wiseman was unable to direct due to his involvement with the fourth "Die Hard" film "Live Free or Die Harder", he became the writer and producer while they tapped Patrick Tatopoulos to direct. Patrick is well-known for his work in special and creature design and effects for many blockbuster films and because this film utilizes plenty of effects, creatures and knew that this film would emphasize that, how the producers felt that he was perfect to direct this film.
* The Origin of the the Feud - (19:58) This is the primary featurette in regards to "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" with interviews with the cast and crew. The cast talk about their characters and what they wanted to bring to their own character and more.
* Recreating the Dark Ages - (13:01) Interviews with the Director and Production Designer in creating the look and feel of the set, especially the castle and also the werewolves. How their intention of utilizing blacks and blues but also the reds and bronze/gold.
* Music Video: "Deathclub" By William Control - Fans of the band Aiden, will know lead-vocalist wiL Francis's side project aka William Control and their music video for "Deathclub" is included on the special features.
* PS3 Wallpaper
One thing that I enjoy about the "Underworld" films is the sense of its dark, goth style in conjunction with its brooding storyline of the vampires and the werewolves feuding against each other. "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" is the dark "Romeo & Juliet" storyline of two lovers from two sides that despite and hate each other.
If there is one thing that people are familiar about the "Underworld" films, there is not much time for thorough character development. These characters may have a brief time of happiness but immediately they are trying to survive or somehow ripped away from any happiness that they seek. By no means is "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" a happy everlasting storyline. It's a tragic story about Lucian and Sonja and what intensified the feud between the vampires (Death Dealers) and the Lycans (werewolves/human hybrids).
Lucian's story of being used by Viktor against humans and against his own kind is established but much is not said about Sonja, all the writers want you to know is that aside from being Viktor's daughter, she's madly in love with Lucian. And that is all you should know.
But I enjoyed this film because it kept things simple. No convoluted or ridiculous storyline that would go astray or become incomprehensible. The storyline features characters that are quite interesting. The Lycan Lucian and his lover, the vampire Sonja and Viktor, the father who will try to deny his daughter or the Lycan baby he raised to become a man any form of pleasure.
Michael Sheen ("Frost/Nixon", "Blood Diamond", "Underworld: Evolution", etc.) did a great job as a Lycan who will not let any side tell him that being in love with a vampire is wrong. It will be interesting as the actor will be part of another popular vampire film "The Twilight Saga: New Moon". Sheen plays that passionate but tortured person effectively, especially as his character has undergone so much, but is strong because of his love for Sonja.
Rhona Mitra ("The Practice", "Boston Legal", "Nip/Tuck") as Sonja was good, I felt that she could have been used a bit more in the film. We know that she is a strong vampire but it was more interesting to see her as a compassionate vampire. It would have been nice to get a little back story of how her relationship with Lucian had started but nevertheless, the focus was not so much on their evolving relationship. The film quickly establishes her love for Lucian and like Juliet, her father would deny her any happiness.
Which leads me to Bill Nighy ("Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest", "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy", "Valkyrie", etc.) as Viktor. Nighy does a magnificent job of playing the cold, elder vampire and as he was great in the first two "Underworld" films, you do see that compassion that he had felt for his daughter and to see how he changes after he discovers the relationship.
The storyline was well-planned and executed, first time Director Patrick Tatopoulos just had to take that screenplay and make the overall setting believable. And because of his well-documented experience on special effects and creature designs, he was able to accomplish that gritty, gloomy world of vampires and werewolves, to make sure that the castle of the vampires looked effectively real and the final cut worked for me.
"Underworld" are films that have never been appreciated by the majority of the film critics but one thing that is consistent is that the intended audience who have enjoyed these films since the beginning have been passionate about it and continue to support it. For me, I have always enjoyed films about vampires and werewolves and I actually dig the overall presentation and characters of the three films.
With that being said, if you enjoyed the first two films, "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" is a prequel that is just worth watching and worth owning on Blu-ray.